Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie photo
Tim Herbst signing the pledge. Grover Norquist is in the sunglasses behind him (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT—Republican gubernatorial candidate and former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst became the second Republican running for governor Monday to sign a “No New Taxes” pledge at a state Capitol press conference.

Herbst’s signing was actually symbolic. He had signed the pledge already, but in attendance at the press conference was Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) President Grover Norquist.

Fellow Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Stefanowski previously signed the same pledge – back in February.

Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie photo
Two hecklers hold signs behind Herbst (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie photo)

At the press conference held on the north side of the state Capitol building, Herbst in front of the media, a small group of supporters and two hecklers who held up signs saying: “Tim protects tax payers unless they are paying for his campaign” and ““How much did the taxpayers pay for this press conference?”

The signs references Herbst’s participation in the Citizens Election Program. The hecklers didn’t say anything they just stood there holding the sign.

Herbst ignored them and said his tax plan “would streamline state government.”

“I have the guts, the passion,” Herbst said, claiming he had turned around Trumbull’s government finances by making a series of difficult cost-cutting choices when he became that town’s first selectman.

Herbst said among his plans, if elected governor, are to refuse a state pension and move all state agency heads, political appointees and their staff to a defined contribution plan and off the state pension system.

There would be legal hurdles to such a proposal without consent of the state employees since it’s considered a property right.

He said he will demand an end to state pensions for a part-time citizen legislature. He would also end what he said were “generous” health benefits. It’s unclear how he would end the contract the state has with the company administering the program and whether he would still require the state to self-insure.

“I will veto any new tax hikes,” Herbst pledged, adding that he also plans to eliminate the income tax for anyone making less than $75,000 annually. The state income tax is progressive so the less you make, the less you are taxed. Someone making $75,000 would have most of their income taxed at 5.5 percent.

If you eliminate the first three of Connecticut’s seven tax brackets for personal income, you eliminate $5.6 billion in revenue. The personal income tax brings in $9 billion per year. Connecticut’s annual budget is around $20 billion.

It’s unclear what a Herbst administration would cut in spending in order to make up for what would amount to about $7 billion in revenue in the first year of a two-year budget.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy essentially pledged not to raise taxes on the campaign trail on 2014, but was faced with a ballooning deficit as soon as he was re-elected and proposed a tax increase. Malloy ended up signing a budget in 2015 that increases taxes $1.3 billion over two years.

The next governor, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis, will inherit a two-year $4.5 billion budget deficit.

Pressed on how he would be able to do what nobody else has been able to do – cut taxes – while the state is still in the midst of a multi-billion dollar deficit, Herbst insisted it was doable by making government smaller.

“Consolidation and privatization is the answer,” Herbst said. Herbst continued that if the state’s tax burden was reduced Connecticut “would become a better state to live, work and retire.”

Herbst went on to say that when the state income tax was first put into place in the early 1990s the mantra, then, was that it would “take all the other taxes off the table.”

History has proven that false, Herbst said.

Herbst spent much of Monday’s press conference defending his record as chief executive in Trumbull, as critics including Stefanowski, pointed out that in the majority of years Herbst was first selectman in Trumbull that Trumbull residents saw an increase in taxes.

Herbst defended his record in Trumbull, stating he had inherited a town government with a woefully underfunded pension system and that while he had raised taxes less than the rate of inflation.

Stefanowski still took a shot at Herbst’s press conference, referring to him in a press release as a “serial tax hiker.”

“I congratulate Tim Herbst on following my lead and signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge” Stefanowski said, “I have been calling for my opponents to pledge their opposition of any new tax increases since I first signed in February.  I also reiterate my call for Tim to return the $1.35 million in taxpayer dollars he is currently using to run his political campaign.”

Herbst answered that he didn’t have the ability to write himself a big check, like millionaire businessman Stefanowski, to fund his campaign, so he’s using the clean elections program.

He also said Stefanowski “can’t stand behind slick (TV) commercials,” or the fact that before announcing he was running for governor he hadn’t voted in his hometown of Madison for 16 years.

Norquist made it clear he wasn’t in Hartford Monday to endorse Herbst. He said he was more than happy to attend any event, anywhere, where an official running for elected office signed his “No New Taxes” pledge.

“Let’s bring the cost of government down,” Norquist said. “Step 1 in that process is that taxes are off the table.”

Americans for Tax Reform is a taxpayer advocacy group founded by Norquist in 1985 at President Ronald Reagan’s request. ATR works to limit the size and cost of government and opposes higher taxes at the federal, state, and local levels and supports tax reform that moves towards taxing consumed income one time at one rate.

ATR organizes the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which asks all candidates for federal and state office to commit themselves in writing to the American people to oppose all net tax increases. In the 115th Congress, 212 House members and 45 Senators have taken the pledge.

Norquist chairs the Washington, DC – based Wednesday Meeting, a weekly gathering of more than 150 elected officials, political activists, and movement leaders. The meeting started in 1993 and takes place in ATR’s conference room. There are now 48 similar center-right meetings in 40 states.